College Basketball

March 06, 2006

The Race IsOn

In a three-waybattle for player of the year honors, LSU guard Seimone Augustus is SI's choiceas the top women's player

Last summer LSUguard Seimone Augustus, Duke guard-forward Monique Currie and Rutgers guardCappie Pondexter were selected to represent the U.S. at the World UniversityGames in Izmir, Turkey. The three seniors got along famously, and Team USA wonthe gold medal. Seven months later their names again are being mentionedcollectively, this time as the top three candidates for national player of theyear.

Rarely in thewomen's game has the award been so hotly contested. "To me, it speaksvolumes about the women's game," says Tennessee coach Pat Summitt."You're talking about three great players. Typically it's about one, maybetwo."

Of the threefavorites, Currie is the long shot. The No. 2 Blue Devils (25-2) have abalanced attack--at week's end they led the nation in scoring (89.7 points agame) and assists (21.9 a game), with seven players averaging at least eightpoints--so Currie's individual numbers (16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds) are notoverly impressive. (She also averages only 27.2 minutes because Duke blows outso many of its opponents.) That's not to say the 6-foot fifth-year senior can'tlight it up, though. In wins against then No. 4 Maryland on Feb. 13 and atMiami six days later, she poured in 31 and 43 points, respectively. "Shecould easily shoot every time down the court, but she doesn't," says juniorpoint guard Lindsey Harding. "She's a great rebounding guard for us, andshe plays great defense. People have to see the big picture."

Pondexter did sowhen she opted to return for a fifth year at Rutgers rather than turn pro, atough decision for someone who had the WNBA logo tattooed on her right arm as ahigh school junior. The 5'9" guard led the No. 6 Scarlet Knights to the BigEast regular-season title with a perfect 16-0 conference record (24-3 overall).Pondexter averages a team-high 21.4 points, shooting 46.9% from three-pointrange. "Without Cappie," says Summitt, "Rutgers would not be theteam it's been this year."

SI's choice,though, for top player is Augustus, the reigning winner of the Naismith andWooden awards. In her four seasons the 6'1" Baton Rouge native hassingle-handedly transformed LSU into a national power, with consecutive FinalFour appearances and a 25-2 record and No. 3 ranking entering the '06postseason. Augustus's scoring has gone up every year, to a 21.9-point averagethis season--No. 2 in the nation--on 57.7% shooting from the field. "Hergame is so explosive," says Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning."She has a great future ahead of her."

Whatever theoutcome of the awards balloting, Currie, Pondexter and Augustus will remainclose. "After it's all said and done," says Pondexter, "we can befriends, and over the summer we'll get together and talk."

• StewartMandel's Bubble Watch at SI.com/collegebasketball.

Three-Pointer

1 It's time to give Ohio State's Terence Dials hisdue. The unheralded 6'9" senior center is the Buckeyes' leading scorer(15.0 points a game at week's end) and rebounder (8.2 a game)--he had 22 pointsand 11 boards in last Saturday's win over Michigan--and is the biggest reasonOhio State (21-4) is a bona fide Final Four threat.

2 Parity is hurting the Missouri Valley Conference.Northern Iowa (22-8, 11-7 in the MVC) was supposed to be the league's bestteam, but the Panthers lost their last four conference games to finish theregular season tied for fifth place in the Valley.

3 Although he has done an admirable job in guidingCincinnati to an 18-10 record (7-7 in the Big East), interim coach Andy Kennedyis still not likely to be with the Bearcats next year. Athletic director MikeThomas has told Kennedy that he will be a candidate for the top job, but givenhow close Kennedy remains to his former boss, Bob Huggins, he's a long shot tobe hired. --Seth Davis

PHOTOBILL FRAKESSEIMONE SAYS Augustus (33), Currie (top inset) and Pondexter could meet up again at the Final Four in Boston. PHOTORON SCHWANE/US PRESSWIRE[See caption above.] PHOTOAL GOLDIS/AP[See caption above.]

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